Sunday, December 27, 2009

Liverpool see off ten man Wolves

Liverpool scrambled their way to a much-needed 2-0 win over Wolves as the pressure lifted from the club.

But it was never going to be simple against an organised Wolves side, with the points only being secured after the Midlanders were reduced to ten men when defender Stephen Ward was sent-off.

Even that was a bizarre decision, with referee Andre Marriner at first getting the wrong man, booking Christophe Berra before his error was pointed out by a pack of Liverpool players who made sure that Ward was punished for a second bookable offence.

From that point Liverpool took over, and goals from Steven Gerrard - only his fifth of the season - and a deflected Yossi Benayoun effort gave them victory.

Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani was finally included in a Liverpool league starting line-up, his previous apperances having been from the bench.

The £20m international had recovered from a calf injury, with Liverpool also recalling Fabio Aurelio and Benayoun.

Javier Mascherano was suspended, while Dirk Kuyt was rested on the bench with Andrea Dossena dropped from the match day squad.

Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, who controversially made ten changes from his team at Manchester United last month, this time fielded an unchanged team from the one that beat Burnley last weekend to vindicate that Old Trafford decision.

More through luck than design, this was Liverpool's most attacking line-up in ages with Benayoun wide, Aquilani providing neat touches from midfield and only Lucas Leiva as a holding player.

After the abject defeat at Portsmouth last weekend, Liverpool needed to do something to restore any level of belief in their fans.

And they started well with Aurelio's free-kick testing Marcus Hahnemann, before Glen Johnson chipped wide of the far post.

Steven Gerrard had a go from 20 yards and Fernando Torres, only eight yards out, kept the American goalkeeper on his toes.

But Wolves, growing in confidence now in the top flight, are organised, compact and resolute. And they slowly imposed themselves on a game that became increasingly difficult for Liverpool.

On the break Wolves were always dangerous. Jose Reina needed to be alert to keep out a shot on the turn from Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and had to touch over a Nenad Milijas free-kick.

Anxiety is never far from Liverpool's defence these days, and Kevin Doyle's header wide from a corner and a 20-yarder from Milijas had the hosts worried.

Wolves could sense the unease, and Liverpool were failing to keep possession as they tried to put together quick-passing moves.

Hahnemann saved well when Johnson found space in the box for a low drive, but generally Liverpool struggled desperately to create significant openings.

Liverpool started the second period with greater resolve and one decent passing movement created space for Gerrard to let fly, Hahnemann saving to his left.

Then six minutes into the half came the key moment in the match when referee Marriner got himself into a terrible mess after a second foul in quick succession by Ward.

Firstly he was booked for pulling back Benayoun after 48 minutes, then three minutes later he hauled down Lucas.

But the West Midlands official initially booked Berra for that second offence before a posse of Liverpool players persuaded him to consult a linesman, who pointed out the error.

Reina was booed from then on by the Wolves fans for racing 80 yards to get involved in the debate.

Ward was eventually called forward and shown a second yellow card and a red, putting Wolves down to ten men.

And it did not take Liverpool to take the lead. It came after 62 minutes when Emiliano Insua got down the left to cross for Gerrard to climb above Milijas and head powerfully past Hahnemann.

The Serbian was replaced before the restart, Michael Mancienne coming on to further re-enforce Wolves' defence, with striker Chris Iwelumo replacing Ebanks-Blake.

But the balance had swung now to Liverpool, and even a home side still way short of their best were not going to waste this opportunity for a much-needed win.

Benayoun settled the issue with a deflected drive off Karl Henry for the second after 70 minutes.

Kuyt came on for Aurelio with 14 minutes left, with teenager Daniel Pacheco replacing a tiring Aquilani after 84 minutes.

Jay Spearing then took over from Benayoun, a relieved Liverpool having secured a much-needed victory.

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